Nick Markakis was the Orioles first round pick in the 2003 draft after being drafted twice by the Reds in the previous two drafts but not electing to sign with Cincinnati. And Cincinnati’s loss has been the Orioles gain as Nick Markakis is the best Oriole position player to come through their system since Cal. Nick has gone from a top prospect to the best all around right fielder in baseball. No other player at his position has Nick’s combination of hitting ability, power, defense skill, and overall baseball I.Q at such a young age.
At just 25 Nick has the most mature hitter’s eye I have ever seen in a young player. His knowledge and management of the strike zone is perhaps the best in all of baseball this side of Albert Pujols. Nick rarely swings at pitches out of the zone and generally makes solid contact in every at bat. To go along with his great eye Nick has amazing plate coverage. From the left side of the plate Nick can stroke pitches on the outer half of the plate into left field with ease and his quick hands allow him to turn on pitches in on his hands.
Nick also has the capability to keep the defense honest by hitting to all fields. Last night against the Royals Nick hit an RBI double to left in the fifth inning and in his next at bat in the sixth he hit a two run double off the right field wall. Nick is a doubles machine hitting 43 and 48 in his first two full major league seasons. This season while his doubles production remains among the league leaders, he is driving some balls that were doubles a year ago over the fence for round trippers.
So far this season Nick has 33 RBI’s in 35 games; this puts him on a pace for a mind boggling 153 RBI’s in 2009. Granted that is a number Nick is unlikely to hit but it is evidence that he has become one of the top run producers in all of baseball.
Another good sign is that Nick has remained healthy throughout his career playing in 161 games in 2007 and 157 in 2008. If he can remain healthy Nick has the ability to be one of the greatest offensive players in Orioles history.
Nick has shown great aptitude at the plate but what sets him apart from other right fielders is how smooth of a defender he is. Slick Nick has great recognition of the ball off the bat which allows him to get into fielding position as quickly as outfielder in baseball. Nick led the AL with a Range Factor of 2.26. Range Factor is a formula created by Bill James which divides a players put outs and assists by the number of innings played. Range Factor is considered more relevant in evaluating a player’s defensive play than the conventional statistic of fielding percentage. Nick was robbed of a Gold Glove last season but should be a perennial winner of the award for years to come.
On top of Nick’s great range and fielding awareness he also possesses a cannon for an arm. Last season Nick led the American League with 17 outfield assists. On top of having one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball Nick has an amazingly accurate arm. Most of Nicks throws are right on the money and he is one of the best in all of baseball at hitting the cut off man.
With all of the ability Nick shows on the field one thing that doesn’t show up in the box score is his calm demeanor. I love the fact that Nick is never to up or down and very rarely shows emotion on the field. You have a better shot at seeing Paris Hilton teaching Microbiology at Harvard than ever seeing Nick chuck his bat in anger or throw a hissy fit in the dugout. I think Nick compares favorable to Joe Flacco in his even keeled temperament that prevents his emotions from getting the best of him during a game.
There are many good right fielders in baseball; but none of them are as good or as young as Nick. Alex Rios of Toronto is a beast but he is three years older then Nick and has never had a hundred RBI season while Nick look to be on his way to his second.
Hunter Pence of the Astros is a good right fielder but he is a year older then Nick and hasn’t showed the same advanced hitting ability that Nick has.
Brad Hawpe of Colorado is a stud but he will turn thirty this season and has never been the consistent run producer Nick is. Hawpe also doesn’t have anywhere near the fielding ability of Nick.
I know it is a bold statement but I honestly believe Nick Markakis is the best right fielder in baseball and the scary thing is he seems to be getting better. The 6 year-$66 million dollar extension the Orioles signed Nick to this off season may seem like a bargain in the next few years. I could possibly see Nick constantly hitting .325-.330 with 25-30 home runs and driving in 110-125 runs while playing Gold Glove caliber right field. If these numbers are accurate they would place Nick in the top ten of all offensive players in baseball and a steal at $11 million a year.
Nick Markakis is only 25 years old and has developed as rapidly as any player I have ever seen. I believe he is the catalyst for the Orioles rebuilding project and will be one of the greatest Orioles of all time by the time he hangs up his jersey.